Mayor of Cambridgeshire denies ‘power grab’ as he faces councillors

The mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer.

The mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, James Palmer. - Credit: Archant

The mayor of Cambridgeshire’s combined authority has denied pushing for a power grab amid accusations he is behaving like a “tin pot Donald Trump”.

James Palmer has called for a halt in plans to advance a Cambridge to Cambourne busway for fear it would undermine the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority’s ambitions for a city metro and transport links heading out of Cambridge.

County council Lib Dem leader Lucy Nethsingha, however, has said the metro plan would need 50,000 new houses to make it viable. She also said the plans to halt the busway were part of a “power grab” by the mayor and the combined authority.

She referred to previous concerns that the busway could cut through Cambridge’s green West Fields.

“This is so much bigger than any busway,” said Cllr Nethsingha. “This plan is predicated on 50,000 houses between Cambridge and St Neots. Anybody that thinks the mayor’s plan will save the West Fields should think about what 50,000 houses looks like. My fear is it has been thought through by a mayor as part of a power grab.”

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James Palmer, mayor of the combined authority, said Cllr Nethsingha had the “right figures, but the wrong routes.” He said the homes would not be built on the West Fields and that “urban sprawl” would need to be avoided. He also dismissed the idea of a power grab.

Mr Palmer said: “The metro between St Neots and Haverhill has the ability to deliver 50,000 very much needed homes built on a world class infrastructure. I have been making this point for over 12 months.

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“By capping land value along the route and building homes in garden villages, I can raise the finance necessary to provide not just an underground for the city but growth without urban sprawl. This is a key part of my policy. Sadly Lucy has got her figures right but her routes wrong.

“This has nothing to do with a power grab, it’s about having a single vision for Cambridgeshire.”

Speaking at Cambridge City Council’s annual meeting on May 24, Cllr Tim Bick (Lib Dem leader on the city council) said more needed to be done to “arrest” the combined authority which, he said, is “gobbling up” power.

Cllr Bick likened Mr Palmer to a “tin pot Donald Trump”, and urged city council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert to use all the power at his disposal to claw back responsibilities from the combined authority.

Cllr Bick said: “We in Cambridge are becoming prisoners of an elected mayor with a tame Tory majority who has all the loyalty to evidence-based policy making, all the interest in partnership working, all the awareness of the diverse area he is supposed to be serving – of a tin-pot Donald Trump.

“This is no normal environment of rational give and take. This is an environment of take and take.

“What started as a project to devolve powers and resources from Whitehall and Westminster seems to have become a project to gobble up and centralise powers and resources that already exist within our own area.

“What we need from [city council leader Lewis] Herbert in this situation is the courage to use all the leverage at this council’s disposal to arrest this trend and rebalance the way this is going. If he does so – as he should, in order to try and honour the devolution deal he sold to this council – he will get support from our side of this council.”

Mr Palmer responded by saying the Liberal Democrats needed to put forward a cohesive vision on the subject, and suggested there may be disagreements within the party.

“Cllr Bick should concentrate on the discord within his party before he criticises solid transport plans of an elected mayor,” said Mr Palmer. “There seems to be little common ground between the leader and deputy leader of South Cambs and various members of the city Libs who cannot seem to agree with each other.”

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